15 Best Things to Do in Nelsonville, OH

Nelsonville, OH
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Sitting in the northwest region of Athens County, the city of Nelsonville is indeed a sight to behold and a must-see culture to explore.

The area was first inhabited by the Daniel Nelson family in 1814 and was later incorporated in 1838.

The city was known to be a popular coal extraction area, earning the nickname “Little City of Black Diamonds.”

Today, Nelsonville is recognized with its bustling arts district and historic sites that pay homage to its early roots.

The city is also famed for its Appalachian vibe, providing locals and tourists with scenic overlooks and relaxing views.

Although the city is considered small, you’re still bound to enjoy a myriad of activities that will give you a good grasp of Nelsonville culture and heritage.

Here are 15 of the best things you can do while in Nelsonville, Ohio:

Go on a Weekend Train Excursion at the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway

Christmas-themed train at Hocking Valley Scenic Railway
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Explore the wonders of Nelsonville on the tracks by riding a historic train around a 145-year-old route.

The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway on West Canal Street has been offering guests a one-of-a-kind touring experience since 1972.

As you board the train, you’ll see most of the interior sporting a classic look thanks to the train’s original equipment that dates back to the 1960s.

Depending on the train, you can pass by most of Nelsonville’s historic sites, such as the Hocking Canal, the old Haydenville depot, remains of the Nelsonville Brick Company, and more.

Exterior of Hocking Valley Scenic Railway's depot
Jaknouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s also a wide selection of themed train rides you can book throughout the year.

Let your kids enjoy a scenic trail ride while hunting for some easter eggs in the Easter Bunny Train and Egg Hunt ride, or feel the Christmas spirit by boarding the Santa Christmas Train Ride Ohio.

History buffs can also enjoy the Hocking Valley Steam Train Special, where they can ride an authentic 1920 coal-fired steam automotive while going on a roundtrip ride along Hocking River Valley.

Water column for steam locomotives in Hocking Valley Scenic Railway
Jaknouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ride a Bike along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway

With its scenic trails and calming views, the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway makes the perfect cycling trail.

The 21-mile trail is named after the Adena Indians, who served as the first inhabitants of the Hocking Valley.

Although the bikeway is primarily accessible from Athens, an access trail from Nelsonville is also available as the trail endpoint.

Begin your adventure at the Rocky Boots trail, make your way through Hocking College, and admire the campus’ tranquil vibe.

You’ll also get to cross the Hocking River via a bridge, which serves as your entryway to the forest.

The trees create a tunnel-like effect as you traverse the trail and will eventually lead you to the beautiful community gardens at West State Street Park.

You’ll eventually find your way in Athens, crossing the bustling State Street.

Explore Nelsonville’s Artistic Roots at Stuart’s Opera House

Exterior of Stuart’s Opera House
Jaknouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the cornerstone of the Nelsonville Historic Art District, Stuart’s Opera House at Public Square serves as a haven for art aficionados.

Stuart’s Opera House is a restored theater that housed vaudeville, melodrama, and minstrel shows from 1879 to 1924 before it closed its doors from 1925-1976.

The opera house welcomed the public once again in 1997, acting as a space for local, regional, national, and international talents to showcase their artistic performances and works.

A band playing instruments at Stuart’s Opera House
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Today, Stuart’s Opera House hosts over 75 events annually and is considered one of the best places to catch live performances.

You can catch various musical shows in the opera house like Jazz and Gospel music.

Spoken word literary events are also regular shows in the opera house, as well as painting sessions hosted by renowned artists.

Take a Step Back in Time at Robbin’s Crossing Historical Village

Robbin’s Crossing Historical Village at Hocking Parkway is the perfect place to discover the wonders of Southeastern Ohio history.

Take a look at the village’s Appalachian arts, culture, and crafts and learn about the stories behind each establishment.

Shop for artisan crafts and refreshments at the general store, explore Cooper’s Shop一a trade workshop specializing in wood crafts, and visit the Blacksmith’s Shop to look at the metal forging process.

Tourists can also check out the School House, a former post office, barn, inn, and school built during the 1830s.

You can also try your hand at several workshops that the historical village offers, such as blacksmithing, basket weaving, log cabin building, and more.

Traverse the Monday Creek Trailhead

Get lost in the lush green forests at the Monday Creek Trailhead at the Wayne National Forest.

Off-roading in all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and off-highway motorcycles (OHM) is a popular activity in the area with 75 miles worth of designated trails.

Operated by the Athens Ranger District, the Monday Creek Trailhead provides access routes in Nelsonville, Haydenville, Butchel, and New Straitsville.

Traverse over five scenic trails and take a short break once in a while to admire the overlooking views.

Visitors are also allowed to set up camp in the national forest’s designated campsites.

Shop for Ironclad Outdoor Gear at Rocky Boots on Fayette Street

Exterior of Rocky Boots' main store
Jaknouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rocky Boots offers a great selection of outdoor, work, western, public service, and military gear and has been a staple of Nelsonville’s business.

Outdoor goers can surely find a wide range of heavy-duty footwear and apparel that are perfect for hunting, working, and venturing the great outdoors.

Founded in 1932 by F.M. and William Brooks during the Great Depression, Rocky Boots was originally called the William Brooks Shoe Co.

Today, the store has four collections featuring outdoor, work, western, and public service shoes and apparel.

You can also shop for products according to comfort, technology, safety, and popular styles.

Head over to Starbrick Gallery at E. Canal Street and take your pick from a wide array of handmade crafts.

From pottery, glass, and jewelry to handmade cards, photographs, and vintage collectibles, Starbrick Gallery is everything good about art.

As you enter the store’s Victorian halls, marvel at the artistry emanating from the exhibits from over 40 local and regional artists.

You can also head down to the basement for a one-of-a-kind vintage collection.

Visitors are also free to enroll in art classes and workshops, as well as watch plays and musical shows.

Buy Comfy Quilts at Nelsonville Quilt Company

The Nelsonville Quilt Company in Washington Street boasts a collection of over 2,400 bolts of fine quilting fabrics, notions, patterns, and books.

Those who appreciate the artistry of making quilts will surely enjoy visiting this authentic store.

Visitors can also avail of the shop’s longarm quilting services for those looking to add a personal touch to their quilts.

You can also catch a few quilt shows featuring renowned quilters and displaying quilts from local artists.

The shop also offers quilting classes and retreats for its guests.

Wander around the Historic Square Arts District

Shops along Historic Square Arts District
Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant), CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

As you make your way through Canal Street, you’ll be greeted by the Historic Square Arts District, a bustling area brimming with crafts and creations that bring a myriad of colors to the city of Nelsonville.

Walk around and feast your eyes at dozens of shops, restaurants, and artisan galleries.

The Historic Square Arts District was a former coal mining community during the city’s early years.

Cars parked in front of Historic Square Arts District's buildings
Jaknouse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, many would brand the district as both a historical treasure and an active arts community.

But perhaps one of the more lively events happening in the community occurs every last Friday of each month, where the district hosts arts exhibits and other festivities until late at night.

Exterior of a gallery at Historic Square Arts District
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Enjoy the Wilderness with Adventure Pro Outdoors

Located on E. Canal Street, Adventure Pro Outdoors offers a wide range of outdoor activities that anyone can enjoy.

From canoe and kayak rentals to ATV rides and lodging amenities, Adventure Pro Outdoors has everything you need to dive into the wonders of nature.

Spend the night under the stars by setting up camp near the Hocking River, or rent a kayak or canoe to explore the waterways.

Adventure Pro Outdoors also offers ATV rentals if you’re looking to experience an off-road adventure inside Wayne National Forest.

If you’re traveling with a group, you might also want to check out Adventure Pro Outdoors’ lodging options that can accommodate up to 16 guests.

Their lodging amenities also include a private pond, so you can enjoy the great outdoors in a private space.

Rock Out at the Nelsonville Music Festival

People watching a performance during Nelsonville Music Festival
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Branded as “one of the best-kept secrets of the U.S. music festival circuit,” the Nelsonville Music Festival offers a personal musical experience for tourists and locals alike.

Nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Southeast Ohio, the Nelsonville Music Festival hosts musical acts from a broad range of local, regional, and national artists.

A band performing at Nelsonville Music Festival
Wendy van Overstreet / Shutterstock.com

The festival is held annually at Stuart’s Opera House in the Historic Square Arts District, adding a more festive feel to the celebration with the street’s colorful displays.

Catch musical acts from a variety of stages, such as the main stage, porch stage, “no-fi” cabin, and more.

Guests can also opt for a unique experience by flocking to the Boxcar Stage with music echoing from an old train car that was turned into a stage backdrop and mural.

A group of people hanging out during Nelsonville Music Festival
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Have a Drink at The Mine Tavern

Tourists and locals looking to end their day on a relaxing note can swing by The Mine Tavern at Public Square.

Sporting a rustic interior, everything in The Mine Tavern is guaranteed to help customers feel like they’re in for a good time.

The Mine Tavern has been welcoming customers since 1842 and has become a staple in the Nelsonville community.

You can even swing by the tavern as early as seven in the morning and have a cup of coffee before starting your day.

At night, enjoy the music playing from the jukebox as bartenders swing from left to right, handing out drinks.

Catch the Thunder in the Valley Fireworks Spectacular

If you haven’t thought about where to celebrate the fourth of July, head over to Hocking College for the grand celebration.

The college is home to one of Southeast Ohio’s most anticipated displays to commemorate the Declaration of Independence.

Thunder in the Valley Fireworks Spectacular is an annual fireworks display inside the campus.

Thunder in the Valley has also served as the event’s lead pyrotechnician since 2016.

As you make your way through the campus, wander around and find a good spot to watch the parade of colors that grace the dark skies at night.

Attend the Parade of the Hills

A ferris wheel during the Parade of the Hills
Aaron Zhu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tourists looking to get a full-blown Nelsonville experience can attend the Parade of the Hills at Public Square.

The week-long festivities include a wide range of activities that visitors can surely enjoy.

Check out the Little Queens Parade and Miss Parade of the Hills Contest, where contestants in the pageant battle for college scholarship awards.

You can also watch the Main Street Welcome Home Parade, where classic cars of the 50s and 60s grace the streets.

Nelsonville’s Parade of the Hills also includes a pie contest and auction, which is also a fundraising activity for small communities.

Shop for Paper Crafts at Paper Circle

Paper Circle in Columbus Street has been in the origami business since 2003.

The non-profit arts organization serves its purpose as an institution that preserves and celebrates the paper and book arts.

If you’re interested in the craft, Paper Circle offers a wide range of products you can use to start your journey.

Take your pick from various papers like unbleached abaca, pattern papers, flax papers, and more.

The shop also hosts an origami meetup group where you can learn more about the art.

Final Thoughts

Nelsonville may be a small city, but every nook and cranny is filled with fun-filled activities that locals and tourists can surely enjoy.

From arts and crafts to musical nights, you’ll surely have a great time during your stay in Nelsonville.

Book your trip today, and don’t miss out on the great adventures this spectacular city has in store for you.